Author Archive

William L. Allen

William L. Allen is a Research Officer with the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society and The Migration Observatory. He conducts two streams of interdisciplinary and multi-method research: the first uses quantitative and qualitative approaches from corpus linguistics to investigate British media portrayals of migrant groups, borders, and citizenship, while the second set of projects explores how data, evidence-based research, and ‘impact’ are constructed, shaped, and visually communicated by civil society organisations in their public-facing work. He currently is Co-Investigator on the AHRC project ‘Seeing Data: Are Good Big Data Visualisations Possible?’ You can follow his work on Twitter and download his papers on

It is clear that debates about ‘who’ citizens are (as well as normative claims about who they ‘should’ be) are important to understanding the politics of citizenship. However, reflecting on the remit of this special series on ‘Migration and Citizenship’, another fundamental question occurred to me: what do citizens do? Describing the kinds of actions and activities in which citizens—however we may define them—reportedly engage could open further discussion about the nature of citizenship itself. In my current work with the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS), I focus on the ways that British newspapers talk about migration issues and relate these narratives to public perceptions and migration policy changes. Using techniques from corpus and computational linguistics, which enables researchers to analyse large amounts of text, I look for (ir)regularities and significant patterns of words. These contextual patterns, called ‘collocations’, can provide insight into a concept: one of the major contributors to linguistics, John Firth, famously expressed this feature of language when he said ‘you shall know a word by the company it keeps’. Applying Firth’s guiding principle to study of UK press portrayal of migrant groups reveals that, in the case of immigrants and asylum seekers, their company is relatively negative. Dr Scott Blinder and I showed that from 2010-2012, the British national press most often described ‘immigrants’ as ‘illegal’ while portraying ‘asylum seekers’ as ‘failed’. But what about citizens? What does this group of people reportedly do in the context of migration coverage?